Sunday, 18 March 2012

Ethics in Writing - What is our unwritten code of ethics?

This week in my studies, the topic is the ethics of writing - our ethical responsibility if you like. Our set readings were extremely engaging and I would recommend reading Malcolm Knox's article 'Should I... Or shouldn't I?' in Australian Author Magazine. I apologise but I can't find an online version to link you too I'm afraid! I'll keep looking I promise :)

The article takes root in the idea of the hidden ethical conditions that we, as writers, found ourselves bound to. I thought, sure ethics are pretty straight forward when writing, right? Uh no. Malcolm Knox kindly woke me up to that!

For example, when Knox's first novel Summerland was accepted for publication, he immediately sent a copy of his manuscript to a friend of his that had featured predominantly as the main character. His friend was happy for it to be published, as both he, and Knox, knew when the character began and ended. Unfortunately, Knox and his buddy didn't forsee the problems that would be cause by other people. There are three types of people who will read your book;

  • Those that know you, and know when the character begins and ends and that's fine.
  • Those that don't know you, and never will, so that's fine.
  • Then there are those that know of you, or know your friend a little, that see the fiction writing as a glimpse at truth.
This last group of people are the ones that will cause problem. I personally, had not even considered this consequence of publishing a novel, but I suppose it would be inevitable that those around you, that knew you wrote the book would assume that several of the characters are based on real people. They may be, to an extent, but it's the 'non-writerly' way of understanding that characters take on their own qualities and characteristics that make them totally independent of the original inspiring person.

Phew... lots to think about anyway :)


  1. There are so many "types" of people that a combination of two or three people you know could easily be developed into a single character. The office bitch, who tries to pass off your work as a product of their own design, could have red hair and green eyes, but in your novel she has blonde hair and deep blue eyes, but then she also is sporting a huge, hairy mole on her upper lip. Serves her right, right? :D

    There are so many ways to disguise your characters that an offended person couldn't possibly recognize them without creating a label for themselves, the narcissist.

  2. This is just what I thought! Lots of people end up in our writing either by accident or on purpose, but there are apparently a lot of people that see themselves in your novel when they aren't even there!

    It definitely opened up my eyes - there are more narcissists out there than I'd care to believe! :D